What Happened the First Five Times Alabama was Preseason AP No. 1?
Ask a coach how he feels about his team’s preseason ranking and you’ll probably get a puzzled look at best and a death stare at worst. That’s because these mid-August rankings mean absolutely nothing for the actual season. They serve as a forecast for which teams should are good on paper and provide a lot of discussion for fans and media, but no one wins a trophy for their preseason ranking.
When the first 2017 AP top 25 was released on Monday, Alabama found itself atop the rankings for the second straight year and the third time in five seasons. The expectations are high once again in Tuscaloosa. Higher, in fact, than most number ones. This stat from ESPN College Gameday’s lead researcher caught my attention.
Alabama received 52 1st-place votes. In last 40 years, 9 others received 50 1st place votes in preseason (Bama 2x). None won national title.
— Chris Fallica (@chrisfallica) August 21, 2017
It’s hard to believe that teams who overwhelmingly entered the season as the favorite couldn’t close the deal. That made me curious as to how Alabama has fared every time it’s landed in this spot.
Surprisingly, the writers have voted the Tide preseason No. 1 just six times in the history of the poll. Four of those came in the Nick Saban era and the other two happened while Bear Bryant walked the sidelines. Only once has Alabama gone on to win the national championship, although it probably should have been twice.
Here’s a look at each of the seasons Bama started the year as the AP No. 1 and how it finished the year:
1966 – Alabama entered the season as the two-time defending national champion to earn its first preseason No. 1 ranking. Behind quarterback Ken Stabler, the Tide rolled to an undefeated regular season and an SEC Championship before defeating No. 6 Nebraska in the Sugar Bowl. Despite being the only team to win every game in 1966, Alabama finished third in the final poll behind Notre Dame and Michigan State.
1978 – Alabama dropped as low as 8th after a week three loss to USC at Legion Field, but fought its way back to a meeting with No. 1 Penn State in the Sugar Bowl. A late-game ‘Goal Line Stand’ helped the Tide secure a 14-7 victory and the AP national championship. This would be Alabama’s only title after starting the season ranked first.
2010 – A year after winning the school’s first national championship in 17 years, Nick Saban earned his first preseason No. 1 ranking at Alabama. Many people believe this might have been the most talented roster during Saban’s time in Tuscaloosa, but the team would go on to lose three regular season games.
2013 – Back-to-back national titles earned Alabama the top spot to start the 2013 season. The team rolled to an 11-0 start until an Iron Bowl missed field goal changed the course of the season. A loss to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl wrapped up an 11-2 season.
2016 – Just one year ago, Alabama found itself in the same position it is now. That team was on the verge of one of the greatest seasons in school history but fell one second short of the school’s first 15-0 season after a loss in the national championship game.
The Crimson Tide will have another chance to buck history and finish the season exactly where it started it. The challenge begins immediately as preseason No. 3 Florida State awaits on September 2.